For hikers, the ancient Trans Bhutan Trail is undoubtedly a prominent fixture on their bucket list. But the site has been closed for six decades. This year though, that is changing as for the first time in 60 years, the historic Trans Bhutan Trail (TBT) will officially reopen in March 2022.

The opening of the trail follows years of extensive restoration. The fully restored 250-mile historic pilgrimage trail welcomes walkers, mountain bikers, travellers, and pilgrims from around the world to retrace the footsteps of their ancestors. It also offers the opportunity to discover generations’ worth of stories across the remotest parts of Bhutan, the world’s only carbon negative country that lies deep in the Eastern Himalayas.

Traversing The Trail

The Trans Bhutan Trail presents a rare and sacred opportunity to explore Bhutan’s rich culture and heritage, as well as perceive the country in an authentic and sustainable way. The fully cleared trail connects nine dzongkhags(districts), 28 gewogs (local governments), two municipalities and one national park.

The Trail meanders through pristine virgin forests, offering panoramic views of soaring Himalayan peaks and exclusive access to many untouched parts of Bhutan seldom visited by foreigners. For hundreds of years, the Trail was the only way for pilgrims, messengers, armies and traders to travel and communicate with others across the country.

Now, it has found a new life for an age of adventure and connection, with His Majesty The King of Bhutan to formally open the trail to citizens and international travellers, as a grand invitation to discover one of the world’s great trekking and mountain biking routes in an astounding, experiential environment. The Trans Bhutan Trail offers a purposeful way to connect with Bhutan’s rich history and preserved culture, and experience the ultimate renewal in wellness, culture, and spirituality.

Restoring The Trans Bhutan Trail

In 2018, with the vision of His Majesty, The Fifth King and the support of the Tourism Council of Bhutan – the Bhutan Canada Foundation led an initiative to restore the Trans Bhutan Trail, to make it accessible again. This led to the deployment of more than 900 furloughed, local workers during the pandemic to work on the ancient route.

Following the rebuilding of 18 major bridges,10,000 stairs and 250 miles of trail, the Trans Bhutan Trail is now renewed for the first time in over half a century, making it once again possible to walk across the country from Haa in the west to Trashigang in east.

The Trans Bhutan Trail is a path trailblazing through Bhutan’s history, with 400 historic and cultural sites identified along the route to date. Its historical significance stretches back at least 500 years, connecting fortresses called Dzongs and serving as the pilgrimage route for Buddhists in the east traveling to sacred sites in western Bhutan and Tibet.

Garps (trail runners) worked the Trail and were legendary, traveling with mail and vital messages at great speed, without food or water. In addition, the Trail played a major role in uniting numerous Himalayan kingdoms which ultimately led to the birth of Bhutan as a nation in 1907. However, once the construction of roads began across Bhutan in the 1960s, the Trail’s stairways and footpaths gradually fell into disrepair.

Opening ceremonies for the Trail will be hosted by His Majesty The King in the ancient and sacred city of Trongsa, central Bhutan in March 2022. VIP guests, international media, and hundreds of Bhutanese children will gather to walk the Trail and for the formal opening ceremonies. From April 2022, a limited number of permits will be issued to international travellers to hike the Trail, in whole or in part.

Guided Trail Opportunities

Trans Bhutan Trail can arrange all aspects of guided walking and biking on the trail from gateway destinations into Bhutan on a not-for-profit basis, with all proceeds going back into a sustainable future for communities along the route. Truly intrepid travellers can walk the entire trail in just over a month.

Half-day and full-day treks are possible with three, four or seven-day section hikes expected to be popular options for most visitors. The Trail presents a rich experience for birdwatchers and botanists, photographers, rafters, and runners, as well as for those looking for a spiritual, wellness, or religious experience. Accommodation along the way will be offered in signature campsites, homestays, and hotels.

A core purpose of restoring the Trans Bhutan Trail is to create new socio-economic opportunities for the local community and make a significant contribution towards sustainable development in Bhutan’s rural areas. Economic benefit will flow directly into the local communities whether via homestays, buying supplies locally for multi-day trips or using one of the local guides.

Hikers and mountain bikers are able to book trips taking in all or some of the Trans Bhutan Trail. A limited number of permits will be issued to international travellers and all walks will be led by a local guide. Flights to Bhutan are operated by two Bhutanese Airlines from airports in India, Nepal, Singapore, Thailand, and Bangladesh.

Trans Bhutan Trail can arrange all aspects of a trip to Bhutan from gateway destinations including visas and guides. An eight-night Western Bhutan Trekking & Cultural Adventure starts at US$3,210 per person based on two sharing, inclusive of accommodation, all meals, excursions and entry fees, transfers, visas, local trekking guide and a guide throughout the trip (excluding international airfares).

(Images: Trans Bhutan Trail)

written by.
Richard Augustin
Former chef turned writer; Richard has tip-toed around the publishing industry for two decades. When not busy chasing deadlines, you can still find him experimenting with recipes in the kitchen.

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